The inaugural post of Eileen P. Gunn's new Inc.com blog, Start Me Up.
Being an entrepreneur energizes me. I like the steep learning curve and daily problem solving that makes my brain fire on all cylinders. I enjoy the company of other entrepreneurial people. They're sharp, ambitious, practical, independent-minded, and generous.
As recently as last summer, though, I wasn't sure I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I seriously doubted I had what it takes to build a business. Several factors conspired to push and pull me down an entrepreneurial path, and I'm sure they'll be familiar to other aspiring entrepreneurs.
I'm launching a company called FamiliesGo!, which will combine original content, consumer reviews and strategic product and service partnerships that will make planning family vacations easier for busy parents.
I spent the first two years of my young daughter's life saying 'someone should build a travel website for parents,' every time I tried to plan a trip and couldn't find hotel information I needed or kid-friendly things to do beyond the obvious zoo and aquarium recommendations. Almost every parent I know has the same frustration. So somewhere around my daughter's second birthday, that thought shifted to 'I should build a travel website for parents.'
I scoured the web looking for websites that were doing what I had in mind and tried to figure out why there wasn't one (the answer is that accumulating all the information is a bear of a challenge). Then I talked to everyone I could think of who might tell me why it was a terrible idea—a friend who edits a parenting magazine, two college buddies who own their own businesses, a high school classmate who works in the web content space, and so on. They laid out the real and sizable challenges I'd have. But rather than telling me not to do it, they encourage me to dive in. That was the pull.
The push was a long, successful journalism career that the recession swiftly turned unrewarding and unprofitable. Since 1999 I'd made a reasonably good living working reasonable hours as an independent journalist. In 2009 the media industry shifted, kicking and screaming, away from old media and toward the new. And with it my work shifted from challenging 2,000 words magazine features to 700-word snippets for under-funded websites. My earning potential dove with my word count. I realized I had to start looking for something new.
It clicked in my brain that FamiliesGo! would be my next thing last summer—about six months into toying with the idea—when a friend tipped me off about job openings at a major newspaper. They paid well and suited my experience. But it occurred to me that if I took one I wouldn't be able to do the website. I really wanted to do the website.
So I got serious. The major stumbling block was my fear of my lack of business know-how. So I found a fabulous bootcamp for new entrepreneurs that the Kauffman Foundation underwrites across the country and that NYC Business Solutions offers for free to city residents. For three weeks last November I absorbed as much as I could about balance sheets, marketing plans, and pricing strategies.
When it was done, I took a very rough business plan and got to work. I found a web designer I liked, scrounged a few thousand dollars from family savings for a decent start-up website, launched Twitter and Facebook pages and became a member of several online parenting communities around the country as well as several travel industry groups.
I now have a website that's a few weeks away from launching. FamilesGo! has more than 400 Twitter followers and more than 100 Facebook fans. I'm hunting for a partner and have two blogging gigs that support FamiliesGo! (and me, as well). I also have ideas for how to grow and monetize the site that I never would have dreamed of nine months ago.
I continue to go to every free or cheap class or panel discussion that can teach me something about marketing, social media, and monetizing web content. I have coffee or phone conversations with anyone who might be a partner, supporter, customer, or investor. I ingest daily tech news from GigaOm, Mashable, and TechCrunch. I'm far from a business guru but I know way more than I did when I started and I'm no longer intimidated by what I don't know. I can learn what I have to when I need to.
EILEEN P. GUNN is the founder of FamiliesGo!, a travel website for busy parents planning family vacations. She is also an independent journalist and author whose work has been published widely. In her Inc.com blog Start Me Up, Gunn shares the whys and hows of building a business as she does it. @familiesgo